New research to secure future of the rose

Monday 17 December 2018

New research funded by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and Defra will help to secure the future of England’s national flower - the rose.

Noted for their colour and scent, roses are one of the most important ornamental flowering plants grown worldwide, with a yearly estimated production of 18 billion cut stems and up to 80 million potted roses.1

In spite of the plant’s popularity and industry importance, rose viruses have not been studied in detail in the UK since the 1980s. But, recent advances in scientific techniques, such as high-throughput DNA sequencing, provide new opportunities to improve our understanding of the viruses. By working with the RHS and industry partners to understand the trade, the work will help to future proof against new and emerging threats such as Rose rosette virus.

Rose rosette virus causes reddening on newly emerging shoots, excessive thorn production, abnormalities and eventually plant death. Not yet present in the UK, Rose rosette virus is considered one of the plant’s greatest risks and responsible for the destruction of entire collections in the USA and Canada. Recently reported in India, the virus is spread by a four-legged microscopic mite transported on plants, insects, wind or contaminated clothing.

The research is being delivered through the RHS and IAFRI, a joint venture between Newcastle University and Fera Science Limited and with the support of David Austin Roses. PhD researcher, Ines Vazquez Iglesias, will analyse hundreds of samples from RHS collections, gardens and nurseries across the UK at Fera’s Sand Hutton research facility with the findings published in 2019.

Common problems afflicting UK garden roses include:

  • Mottled leaves and weakened plants caused by rose viruses such as Strawberry latent ringspot virus and Arabis mosaic virus
  • Fungal problems on the leaves including rose blackspot, powdery mildew and rose rust, causing disfigured growth and lack of vigour
  • Root problems caused by Phytophthora root rot and honey fungus, leading to plant die-back and eventual plant death

Gerard Clover, Head of Plant Health at the RHS, said: “Roses are favoured by gardeners for their wide range of colours and scented blooms with their versatility making them a stalwart of gardens across the country. With new pest and disease threats waiting in the wings it’s important we apply the latest tools and techniques to protect gardens and support the UK’s horticultural industry.”

Nicola Spence, Defra Chief Plant Health Officer, said: “We want to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and protecting our plants, such as roses, from pests and diseases is a key part of that ambition.

“Rose rosette virus is not present in the UK and we are continuously working to ensure that foreign threats are kept away. However, we also need to better understand the threat they pose and this research by Newcastle University will provide essential intelligence on how to tackle these emerging pests and diseases.

“Once again, I urge everyone to source their plants from reputable nurseries and to remain vigilant for threats by practising good biosecurity.”

Ines Vazquez Iglesias, PHD researcher, said: “This year an RHS bursary provided an opportunity to see first-hand the devastation that rose rosette virus has had in the US. What was once a blooming garden of roses had been reduced to hundreds of dead or dying plants. My research is intended to educate industry and gardeners as to the risk posed to the rose by new and emerging viruses and protect the UK’s gardens for the future.”

1. Debener and Byrne, 2014


Notes to editors

For more information please contact Laura Scruby in the RHS press office: / 0207 821 3060

About the RHS: The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.

The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £15 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

About IAFRI: The Institute for Agri-Food Research and Innovation (IAFRI) is a joint venture between Newcastle University and Fera Science Ltd (Fera). The IAFRI mission is to conduct frontier research by bringing together the best multidisciplinary research talent in the social and natural sciences, as well as engineering and computer science. Through IAFRI, this research is fast-tracked into innovation to drive new solutions, techniques, skills and best practice in the agri-food sector. IAFRI is based at Fera at the National Agri-Food Innovation Campus (Sand Hutton, North Yorkshire) and at the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences (SNES) at Newcastle University and on its two research farms (Nafferton and Cockle Park) in Northumberland.

About Fera Science Limited: Formerly the Food and Environment Research Agency, Fera Science Limited is a joint private/public sector venture between Capita plc and Defra. Based on the National Agri-Food Innovation Campus in Sand Hutton, Fera’s vision is to be a leading supplier of scientific solutions, evidence and advice across the agri-food supply chain.

Employing more than 300 scientists, Fera turns expertise and innovation into ways to support and develop a sustainable food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks. Publishing over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers annually. Find out more at

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262